Samudra Sukardi: Success with the Tiger Claw Concept

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What’s in a name, asked William Shakespeare. To most people, however, a name can be very meaningful. Samudra Sukardi, CEO of Pelita Air, is an example. “‘Samudra’ means an ocean with a lot of waves,” he said, explaining the reason why his parents gave him the name. Therefore, he says, in life I always want to see something from a broad viewpoint.

He said his younger brother, Laksamana Sukardi, former state minister for state enterprises, was always a leader, something that suits the meaning of his name. “Laksamana” means admiral.

Samudra has also proven himself a successful leader of men during his career. When Garuda was looking for a new CEO, most Garuda employees backed Samudra, although in the end he failed to land the top position at Indonesia’s largest airline. Still, Samudra remains magnanimous. “For me, working anywhere is just the same. What matters to me is how to show the best performance to the company.”

In the airline sector, Samudra, a father of two, has climbed the career ladder quite fast, member in Garuda’s technical division. As the years went by, he moved from one section to another in the division. He started at the power plan section and then became an avionic engineer and after that was transferred again to the system development section. Finally, he was entrusted as the technical representative of Garuda in Los Angeles, the United States. He spent five years there and was also assigned to develop Garuda’s Overseas Purchasing Offices for Asia and the Pacific.

In the United States, he began to build relations with large airline companies such as Boeing & Douglas, as well as vendors and forwarders. “My horizons were opened and I found that to be successful you need business knowledge and sciences. So after completing my electrical engineering studies, I took up business administration and management,” said Samudra, who is married to Poppy Filsafah.

Samudra also took two master’s degrees from West Coast University in the U.S.: a Master of Management and Master of Science in Information Systems. Returning from the U.S., Samudra was named head of Garuda’s procurement division and was responsible for the procurement of all spare parts for the aircraft and engines, and fuel and ground handling equipment. Later, Samudra was named Vice President for Information Systems and was directly under the board of directors. In later years, Samudra climbed higher up his career ladder and became Senior Adviser and Assistant to the President Director of Garuda.

Then, after failing to be named president director of Garuda, PT Garuda assigned him to head PT Abacus Indonesia, a subsidiary of Garuda dealing with the ticket reservations for travel agents, and PT Wahana Garuda Purnakarya, Garuda Indonesia’s pension fund. All in all, Samudra, 51, has spent 29 years at Garuda Indonesia.

Today Samudra is the head of another airline, Pelita Air, which is also owned by the government. He assumed this position on Nov. 1, 2005. When Samudra joined Pelita Air, the company was financially bleeding. In the previous five years, it sustained losses of billions of rupiah.

In 2006, Samudra said, Pelita Air made a profit of about Rp 20 billion. “After being audited, with a number of corrections, the profit may amount to only about Rp 10 billion,” he said.

This still would exceed the target, he said. Samudra set a profit target of Rp 4 to 5 billion. The target was so low because when he joined the company, Pelita Air had sustained losses totaling Rp 41 billion. “So, actually, at the beginning my target was that I would thank God if the company could just have a positive financial condition. In fact, the target was exceeded.”

This achievement is proof that Samudra is not a sham leader who relies on the prestige of a younger brother who was once a minister. This nation should learn to view someone not for “who he is” but for “what he has done”.

Even when he was head of Abacus Indonesia, Samudra created what a One-Stop Solution for the Airline Industry. Under this scheme, travel agents and airlines can be interconnected through computers (on an on-line and real-time basis) for ticket reservations, making it easier for prospective passengers to get tickets.

All this is rooted in a concept that Samudra calls the Tiger Claw. The Tiger Claw concept is a graph that resembles a tiger claw. There are five fingers, with the little finger as the shortest. This little finger is located below the other fingers, and this illustrates the correlation between the effort made and the progress of the company in the future.

In this tiger claw graph, a newly set up company is in the position of the little finger (the shortest in length and the lowest in position). This illustrates the concept of “as is”. Then the company must continue to move up to the next finger, which is higher, by upgrading its products.

The stage of the next finger is the innovation stage. Without innovation, Samudra noted, a company will remain at the “as is” stage. Then the next finger is the portfolio. This means, he said, “The company must continue to diversify its products. This will certainly be achieved because the previous stage was the stage of innovation. Innovation will surely bring about new products.”

In the last finger, the fifth and the highest in position, the company reaches the out-of-the-box stage. At this stage, he said, a company should not concentrate only on one type of business. “We must have the courage to get out of the box to make a new line of business.”

However, he added quickly, the new line of business should still close to the nature of the company. “If the company is an airline, for example, it should not make a new line of business in music. If this happens, this is not what I mean by being out of the box,” he said. However, he also said that the airline world is not confined only to aircraft. “Building an exclusive airport is still a line of business in the business nature of an airline.”

Samudra said communication was very important in a company. “We may apply various theories and concepts of management in a company, but if the communication does not run smoothly, the company will never be successful.”

In his early days as head of Pelita Air, he said, he always held workshops with his employees as part of his communication strategy. The purpose was to obtain input from the employees. “We discussed many things, ranging from the existing problems and their solutions to the dreams of the employees. We took the gist of all these things and turned it into our common vision, mission and goal.”

Uniquely, although there are a lot of experiences and achievements to his credit, Samudra only has a simple wish for his old age. “I just want to be an ustadz (Muslim cleric),” he said, chuckling. He said there are two advantages for someone deciding to be an ustadz: safety in this world and in the next.

So, Indonesia will some day have an ustadz with a broad horizon of mind, in religious knowledge, in leadership skills and in the business science. This is not because he happens to be called Samudra, but because he used to be the CEO of various companies. May your dream come true, Pak! (Arif T. Syam)

The Jakarta Post, April 18, 2007

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